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humayunHUMAYUN MAY BE A FUGITIVE  for want of a permanent address. But a King on the run is a King nonetheless. He still has a sizeable though demoralised retinue of a few thousands. After Sher Shah’s forces sent them scattering, a good number consolidate on the way to Lahore. It is here that Humayun and his brothers, themselves shaken and besieged, meet and discuss developments. They embrace and express relief, but no one is too eager to offer Humayun special sympathy. In all, nothing is resolved and no future course of action decided upon. It’s just as well, because no sooner do they  begin to get distrustful of each other all over again, than news arrives of Sher Shah’s forces gaining on Lahore.

They bolt: Hindal for Sind, Kamran for Kabul. Humayun – unaware of where. His paralysis may be comical but it is also propitious because when he finally makes up his mind he goes in the direction of Sind, where he eventually catches up with Hindal and an interesting turn in personal fortunes of a kind. Hindal receives Humayun in a town in Western Sind where the battle-weary sovereign is glad to treat himself to some long-forgotten luxuries like rose-water baths, silk robes and lemon sherbet.

Humayun_tent

An unusual bird flies into Humayun’s tent in the morning, perhaps signalling a new force about to enter his life. Image: From a 17th C painting, Humayun in an encampment (British Museum)

That evening he goes over to Hindal’s apartment for a programme of entertainment. Amid the light music and the quiet recitals of poetry in the cool air scented with vetiver, Humayun walks in and sits against cushions. He picks up a samosa filled with mincemeat and onions.  He finds himself distracted by the sight of a young lady in the corner where the women are relaxing. He notices a bunch of bright yellow lantana flowers in her hand. Hindal leans over and addresses Humayun. He doesn’t fail to notice the cause of his half-brother’s distraction. Instead of replying to Hindal, Humayun asks, pointing, ‘Who is that girl?’ Hindal is angry enough to call an end to the entertainment but manages to controls himself.

‘What do you mean? That girl is a dear friend of mine whom I regard as a sister.’
‘That’s all right. I just want to know what her name is.’
‘Hamida.’
‘Is she married?’
‘She is not married. But what is it to you?’
‘In that case, I wish to marry her.’
‘Remember you are a guest. There should be more urgent things on your mind.’

With this, Hindal storms out. Humayun coolly finishes a bowl of kheer garnished with nuts. Before he leaves, he picks up a roll of paan topped with gold leaf, from the many arranged on a filigreed silver plate. He smiles at Hamida before he makes his way to his chambers. His brother is right, as a sovereign in exile, he should be more serious. Hindal would normally take offence at such a scolding, but the worm has turned. His sights are set.

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